Panel discussion Two
Nature and Materials
This discussion focused on the “Architecture” part of “Architecture for Humanity”, and was a more technical discussion. We talked about building materials beyond cement, glass and steel. How can local materials be innovatively used for both sustainability and novelty? What are the lessons to be learnt from history and tradition of a place for sustainable building practices? How sustainable is a “green building” really?
Firstly building rating systems were deeply criticized for their shear detachment from the local conditions. An interesting point was raised when someone said that India one of the most diverse countries. Even Gandhiji once said that in India after every150 Kms. it seems like a different country. Even within such short distances, the language changes, the food, clothing, the rituals change. Then why do we have uniform building code, uniform rating systems, for the entire country? Why can’t the building laws change with every 150 Kms.?
Dr. Amit Rai from BMTPC argued that enough advancement has been made in alternative building materials. The problem is how to bring them to the masses? How can the progress be taken from labs into mainstream?
One answer is, education. If the youth is educated early enough about these materials and applications, it is more probable that they would put it into use rather than the established architect who already too comfortable in their own niche of convention.
The various materials which offer a lot of scope are mud (Revathi Kamath’s own house, which was also featured in the exhibition, is built entirely in mud), fly ash, bamboo etc. What is needed to create faith in these materials, to create sociological acceptance, which NGO’s should really focus on.
Kamath also mentioned that materials like steel should also not be completely shunned. Steel can also be sustainable if used in the right manner and the right amount (maybe as a composite also), since it has a lower embodied energy than other materials like aluminum, and is also extremely durable.
A large scope lies in disaster management and rehabilitation projects, Usually houses are quickly built on a large scale in materials like corrugated steel, and a few years later, are found unlivable. These houses could well serve as demonstration projects for alternative materials and techniques.
Another possibility is schools. There are thousands of government schools being built every year. Of these even if 5 are commission to be built on the lines of alternative techniques and materials, the trend will grow for sure.
Another point of view, which can be termed as somewhat cynical was that of Mr. Stephane Paumier, practicing architect in Delhi. He believes the root cause of all these problems are the roads. Wherever the roads go, differences crop up. People start using different materials, since they don’t have to use local materials anymore. Isolated islands on the other hand have to make do with whatever is available locally, and are hence sustainable.
Another problem is too many laws and codes. Excessive rules and regulations lead to in-efficient material use, due to over-dimensioning. For example, a steel and concrete building uses almost as much steel as a purely steel building. Why then can we still not build without concrete?
The government subsidies on materials like burnt bricks, cement etc. was questioned. A brick or cement is not always a local material, and needs to be transported over long distances. But the govt. subsidies prevent people from looking beyond them, to local options. Why can’t we subsidies the manufacturing of materials like mud bricks, fly-ash bricks, etc.?
An audience member pointed out a very practical point – Everything that sells, works. There id nothing in the media, which says mud or bamboo is “sexy”, unlike the glass buildings of Gurgaon. These materials need to be glamorized if they need to be brought into mainstream.
At the end of it all an aggravated architect Mr. Anil Laul, put the entire blame on the Indian bureaucracy by saying“ Man proposes God disposes but in this country Man proposes the CPWD disposes” and this is followed by “Behind every successful man is the hand of a lady but behind every unsuccessful project is the Hand of a Bureaucrat”. This is how things stand but few would want to take this head on.
To conclude, he said that this detachment with all that is local and this obsession with all that is western came with the British.
Lord Macaulay in his speech in the British parliament on February 2, 1835 on introducing English education in India said “I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such high calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her cultural and spiritual heritage, and therefore I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native self culture, and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation”.